Isaya Yunge is connecting underprivileged African students to advanced level education by opening up new education funding resources that were previously unavailable to them and building an ecosystem that breaks the myth that advanced level education is only for the wealthy.
The New Idea
Isaya Yunge is unlocking advanced learning opportunities for Tanzanian and African youth by breaking the myth that advanced learning is for the wealthy and by creating channels for students from low income families to access latent funding for advanced level education.
In 2016 Isaya created Somaapp, a mobile phone and web application that makes it easier for Tanzanian students to find opportunities for scholarship funding. The app has an algorithm that automates the search and provides results that are tailored to a particular student where the student has a high chance of winning the scholarship. Isaya has also built into Somapp tools that support students with crafting a winning scholarship application. The app provides sample essays for past students that have won funding and guidelines on writing a strong scholarship application. Isaya is also engaging the ecosystem of high schools, student communities, universities and scholarship providers to build a better system that recognizes potential rather than economic status and better connects students with the highest potential from low income families with advanced level scholarship funding.
The result is that more young Tanzanians and African students that otherwise couldn’t afford are now accessing advanced learning opportunities from around the world. Within the first twelve months of launching Somaapp, one thousand Tanzanian students had connected to short courses, full study and conference scholarships using Somaapp. By the end of 2018, 15,000 students had used the application to win a total of $850,000 worth for full academic scholarships, short courses and travel to international conferences. The majority of users on Somapp are from Tanzania, however the app is currently reaching students in Zambia, Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa.
Isaya is now challenging high net worth Tanzanians and local universities to embrace the culture of making endowments for scholarships for Tanzanian students. He is leading the way by donating 10% of Somaapp profits to funding scholarships for Tanzanians to local universities.
In Tanzania, only about 36% of students who sit for their higher secondary education manage to make it into university and other higher education institutions. This is about only 3% of the total population of tertiary institutions going age Tanzanians. The World Bank estimates that only 1.7% of Tanzanian students who sit for primary leaving examinations enroll into university annually. The very low attendance of advanced learning has left Tanzania and indeed the African continent with a talent crisis. There is a severe mismatch between available jobs and the labor force as there aren’t enough qualified and skilled Tanzanian youth for the marketplace.
90% of students in secondary schools from poor families are unable to afford university education, and families have to pay as much as $1500 annually to meet tuition fees in local universities. Ironically, every year about 3 billion dollars in education scholarships meant for universities around the world go unclaimed. There is a deep seated mindset among poor Tanzanians that advanced level education is completely out of their reach and that scholarship opportunities in universities around the world are for rich people. The lack of career guidance and support to pursue the wealth of opportunities for advanced level education is at the center of this mindset.
The government instituted a student loan program to increase access to advanced level education for Tanzanians. However, the number of student applicants for loans has surpassed the Tanzania University Commission’s planned admission figures. The allocated pot of funds is too little; in 2016/17 two out of every three applicants missed out on the loan.
Those who have attempted to search for and apply for scholarships outside of Tanzania have to spend hours scouring through hundreds of different websites to identify the right opportunities and pay a very high price to access this information online. And even when the right scholarship opportunity is identified, the lack of familiarity with global education systems and inability to express themselves in English means the quality of applications submitted often eliminates the applicants. Applicants are also required to take the Test Of the English Language (TOFEL) test to demonstrate their ability to communicate and comprehend the language. However, at $400, the cost is too high for most students another factor that has locked out hundreds of thousands from pursuing university education.
Universities around the world that hold scholarship funding for African students have not had success in attracting applicants to their programs. There has been very little innovation in pursuing students for scholarships with their priorities high on self funded students. As a result the vast majority of scholarships are never claimed leaving billions of unused grants every year.
Isaya, who struggled to get an education as a child, is creating local and international infrastructure that brings financial resources to African students from low income families to pursue graduate and post-graduate education.
In 2016 he created Somaapps a mobile application that makes it easy for Tanzanian students, particularly those living and studying in rural communities to find the right scholarship funding for advanced level education that was previously out of their reach. The web and mobile phone application called Somaapp gathers information on available funding opportunities, formats it in easy to comprehend composition and matches the students to the opportunities where they have the highest chance of winning. Everything on the app is automated making it an effortless process to find the right scholarship and making previously inaccessible information easily available. Isaya has connected 850 students from Tanzania, Rwanda, Nigeria, South Africa and Malawi to scholarship funding.
Beyond connecting students in low income communities to scholarship funding opportunities, Isaya saw that a major factor in the failure to win scholarship funding is the inability of Tanzanian, and African students to write strong applications. He supports young people in school through the application process. For example he has built in an application assistant tool that guides students – who often fail to articulate their abilities because English is not their first language – on writing a strong application. The tool also provides examples of essays by users who have won scholarship funding.
Away from the online platform Isaya is starting to build clubs in secondary schools that bring information on funding for advanced level education. The groups also provide peer support to encourage students to not give up on their career ambitions and to pursue scholarship funding with renewed belief. Through the school clubs Isaya also addresses the crippling perception among low income communities that advanced level education is for the wealthy.
Isaya is also building an ecosystem to support funding advanced level education for African students. He is bringing secondary schools into the ecosystem by forming schools clubs for peer support. He is building partnerships with universities outside Tanzania that have scholarships for African students. Starting with universities in China, Isaya provides a direct solution to universities that are failing to attract applications for their grants. For a 10% commission on the value of the scholarship, he is bringing their funded education programs to the fore on the application and ensuring that they are directed to students that fit their requirements.
Locally, Isaya is advocating for Tanzanians to fund advanced level education. Isaya dedicates 5% of Somaapp profits to funding students to attend local universities. He is using this as inspiration and a rallying call for other Tanzanians, especially high net worth individuals to invest in study grants for advanced education. Isaya is also building a new crowd funding tool into Somapp to get the public to participate in funding promising students from low income communities.
Isaya is looking to expand the reach of his app and to build ecosystems that support advanced level education for students from low income households in other African countries. Albeit unintended there is evidence that his work would be impactful outside of Tanzania. 28% of users of Somaapp are from other African countries. He is planning on conducting research on the key factors for success given the unique cultures around education in other countries.
He intends using technology to lower the cost of advanced education. He has a vision of using teleconference learning to bring international faculty to local universities. This will eliminate the costs of travel and living in other countries and will scale the number of Tanzanian students access world class advanced education.
As he continues to succeed in getting Tanzanian students into advanced level education, Isaya is aware of the enormous talent pool his work is creating. He intends to persuade Tanzanian students to return to build their countries when done with their studies. He is planning to connect graduates of his program to employment opportunities within Tanzania.
With Somaapp Isaya has demonstrated to students and parents from low income households that education in international universities is not a privilege reserved for the wealthy. He has successfully connected 612 students in Tanzania to scholarships in universities around the world. There are currently 15,000 users of Somaapp. Each user pays a monthly fee of $1 to use the platform. Although originally targeting Tanzanian students Somaapp has been used by more than 200 students in Rwanda, South Sudan, South Africa and Nigeria to secure scholarships. He has also built an ecosystem that brings together students, secondary schools, international and local universities and high net worth individuals to contribute to building expertise for the African continent by increasing the number of African students attending advanced level education.
Isaya was born and raised in Mwanza a port city on the shores of Lake Victoria in norther Tanzania. His parents divorced while he was a little boy which led him to move from one foster home to another. Although he believed education was his way out of poverty, he never found education until age 7 but before then he spent his time herding animals when his peers attended school. These dire circumstances however did not limit his imagination. He was a great admirer of Nelson Mandela and wanted to be like him.
Failing to find acceptance from his own family, Isaya lived part of his childhood on the streets of Mwanza. There he learned the plight of street children and when he finally found education he still spent his free time bringing together street children and giving them lessons in English and basic mathematics. At the age of 16 Isaya convinced a Radio Free Africa, a local radio station, to create a segment, with him as host, to bring street children on radio to talk about their life in the streets. The goal was to create empathy in the public for street children. The segment was hugely successful attracting funding from UNICEF and running for six years with Isaya hosting it for four years. This would win Isaya a nomination as a UNICEF African Youth Ambassador and a trip to the G8 summit where he was invited by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
During the summit, Isaya met other youth who had won travel grants to attend an international conference.
In his university Isaya wanted to bring these funded opportunities to participate in international conferences and expand their world view. He began collecting information on these opportunities and share them through WhatsApp groups with the student community. Isaya would learn of the frustration students faced applying for scholarships and the very low percentage of students making it into advanced level education. He invented Somaapp to address this and the systemic challenges in accessing advanced level education for Tanzanians.